How To Choose Headphones
Wednesday, January 04, 2012
Whether you're at home or on the go, many of us spend a lot of time listening to music on our headphones. If you're looking to get beyond the iPod earbuds and invest in a nice pair of headphones for yourself, here's how to pick out the perfect set for you.
Headphones come in a number of different styles that are going to fit your ears and sound differently when you wear them. The first thing you should narrow down, when deciding on a pair of headphones is which form factor you want. You'll want to make this decision based not only on where you'll be using them, but what type of music you're listening to.
Earbuds and in-ear headphones are tiny earpieces that go inside your ears. You're probably familiar with these, as cheaper earbuds often come with music players (like the iPod). Earbuds generally sit in the bowls of your ears, while "in-ear" variants actually go in the ear canal, some fairly deeply.
Pros: Earbuds are super portable, which is nice if you're using them on-the-go. In-ear varieties also offer some isolation from outside noise, which is great on airplanes or loud buses. They're also more comfortable than over-the-ear headphones if you wear glasses or if you have ears that stick out like mine do.
Cons: While you can get some pretty decent in-ear headphones, you probably won't get the same sound quality that you would from an over-the-ear pair of headphones. Some people also find them less comfortable, because they're uncomfortable with putting things inside their ears. Comfort is mostly personal preference when it comes to earbuds. Lots of them are prone to falling out of your ears, too, so not every model is good for exercising.
Ear pad headphones were much more popular before the advent of the iPod, but they still have some good qualities that make them worthy of consideration. These headphones are usually small pads that go over your ears, but don't cover the entire ear. They're more often than not "open" models of headphones, which means you get some sound leaks both ways—you can hear outside noise and the outside can hear a little of your music.
Pros: These are generally some of the most comfortable headphones around, since they just sit on the outside of your ears. They won't make your ears get hot or pin them back, which is nice. Their open-backed construction provides good sound, and is especially nice for exercising, since it keeps you aware of the crazy old lady going 80 miles per hour behind you. They're also usually very portable, which is great for on-the-go use.
Cons: Since many ear pads are open, you wouldn't want to use them in a situation that's exceptionally loud, like on an airplane, since they won't block outside noise. You also wouldn't want to use them in a super quiet area, like a library, since other people will be able to hear your music. And, while a lot of people prefer open headphones for their sound quality, you probably won't get as much bass response as with closed models. Ear pad headphones do come in closed models, but since they don't cover your ears, many aren't quite as effective as a full size, closed headphone would be.
Full size headphones come with ear cups that surround your ears completely. They tend to be fairly large, and come in both open and closed varieties. Their large size makes them ideal for home use.
Pros: Full size headphones provide great bass response, sound clarity, and isolation from outside noise. They also usually come with a large amount of padding, which makes them comfortable on most heads.
Cons: Since full size headphones are usually pretty big, they don't make for good portable headphones. They also may be uncomfortable for some people, like those with large heads. They can also make your ears hot, which is never fun.
Noise-canceling headphones sample the noise around you and play an inverted version of that sound in your ears, canceling out the noise around you. The upside is that they're extremely effective, but they tend to be pretty expensive, so that's something to keep in mind when considering noise-canceling headphones. You'll need some batteries for these types of headphones, and while they come in both ear pad and full size models, you'll probably want to go full size for the best noise cancellation.
Often confused with noise-canceling headphones, noise isolation headphones block outside noise by creating a physical seal in or around your ears to keep music in and ambient noise out. They aren't necessarily as effective as noise-canceling headphones, but they don't require batteries and you can find decent models for less money.